From Festivals to Streamers: Why Arthouse Filmmakers Are Switching to Episodic TV | features

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Irma VepTaking on his own 1996 feature film of the same name, Olivier Assayas’ new limited series sees an acclaimed but haunted director insist the eight-episode series he’s directing is actually a movie – because ‘I don’t do series’ .

It’s a disconnect that can be experienced by a growing number of filmmakers, lauded for their festival performances, as they channel their talents into episodic projects for the content-hungry streaming world.

Art-house filmmakers have, of course, been making forays into episodic television for at least a decade. Jane Campion was a pioneer with her two Up on the lake Series; the late Jean-Marc Vallée brought up his visual style Big little lies and sharp objects; Park Chan-wook directed all six episodes of the 35mm version of The little drummer girl; and most recently, Barry Jenkins directed the entire series The subwaywhile also contributing scripts and serving as showrunner.

But the trend has been particularly evident this year, as festival filmmakers are linked to a slew of current Emmy nominees.

The British author/director Clio Barnard – known for festival award winners such as The Selfish Giant — is the sole managing director The Essex Serpent from Apple TV+; Mike White, author of Chuck&Buck, is the creator and leader of The White Lotus from HBO/HBO Max; Under the banner of heaven (FX on Hulu) is from creator Dustin Lance Black, author of milk; moon knight, from Disney+, has directed two key episodes by Fantasy Festival regulars Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson; Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain is a director and showrunner at Apple Lisey’s story; and conversations with friendsfrom Hulu and the BBC Room Oscar nominee Lenny Abrahamson as the lead actor.

The popularity of the limited series format, which gives filmmakers the ability to switch between streaming and feature projects, is a factor driving the crossover trend. Another reason is the range of material that the format and the streaming platforms that increasingly favor it can accommodate.

“Television used to be the medium where there needed to be more ‘crash bang wallop,'” says Abrahamson, who previously conversations with friends directed normal people, another novel adaptation by Sally Rooney, also produced by Element Pictures of Ireland for the BBC and Hulu. “The idea of ​​an art house approach to television was not really on anyone’s mind. But now you can draw an audience into something quite detailed and understated on television.”

A decline in the theatrical market for non-blockbusters could also drive the trend — along with a growing appetite by streamers for book adaptations and the expansion of specialist film companies like Element and into television Irma Vep Manufacturer A24.

Iain Canning, co-CEO of See-Saw Films, executive producer of Up on the lake and The Essex Serpent, says: “When we are faced with a beautiful novel that we want to adapt, it feels very instinctive for us to find a filmmaker who also wants to tell this novel-like story in several parts. It feels very strongly in our DNA as a company.”

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On the set of

Perhaps the main driver of the trend, however, was the rise of the streamers themselves. While premium cable HBO and Showtime (with projects like David Lynch’s twin peaks Continued) have always drawn to film talent occasionally, with streaming platforms like Hulu and Apple making limited series with an art house feel and festival talent behind the camera a big part of their menu.

Even the more family-oriented Disney+ has created opportunities for some indie filmmakers through the original programming on its branded Marvel hub. “We approach our shows like we do movies,” says the CEO of Marvel Studios moon knight Executive Producer Grant Curtis, “so we’re looking for the best filmmakers.”

For the platforms, such creatives can efficiently produce content while attracting talent, viewers and accolades for the series they deliver.

“A lot of the indie filmmakers we work with are used to doing things quickly, exceptionally well, and on small – or smaller – budgets,” said Sasha Silver, head of drama at Hulu Originals. And the filmmakers’ names, she adds, “can be a great calling card for our shows.”

Film creators can also help streamers reach a specific type of viewer, suggests Silver. “Audience is smart and increasingly craves sophisticated story, plot and characterization. Involving indie filmmakers has allowed us to further push those creative boundaries while still being able to deliver shows to the widest possible audience, which is a hallmark of our overarching strategy.”

For filmmakers, limited series offer many opportunities, but also occasional challenges. The culture of television, where writers/producers traditionally have more control than directors, can take some getting used to for independent filmmakers. However, most say that working on limited series doesn’t mean sacrificing creative freedom to any significant extent.

On moon knightfor example Benson and Moorhead who have collaborated on all aspects of indie features including The Endless and Synchronous, found space to explore within the Marvel brand. “Of course there are limits to not just answering yourself,” says Benson. “But once you find them, it’s a very big playground. Because the only reason they hired you is to make it more interesting, not less.”

Abrahamson found that out in the meantime conversations with friendspreviously in development as a feature project at Element gave him a chance to go beyond what he had done with it normal people limited series. “Part of the reason I wanted to do this conversations was to push the style even further,” says Abrahamson. “conversations is a more complex story with several significant characters. I liked the idea of ​​seeing if we could be even more forensic, quieter and smarter when it came to storytelling.”

Move with the audience

'Irma Vep'

With older and art-house viewers slow to return to theaters in the wake of the pandemic, streaming platforms are likely to become an even more important outlet for complex stories and the filmmakers who want to tell them.

Upcoming limited series like Park Chan-wook’s The sympathizer (for HBO), Alfonso Cuarons Disclaimer (apple) and Yorgos Lanthimos The man in the Rockefeller suit (in development with Element and Searchlight Television) certainly sound like adventurous film projects, but the finished products are labeled.

Trying to distinguish between series and movies is pointless for Assayas, who first caught the debate with his 2010 miniseries Carloswhich was also released as a feature in some countries.

Assayas says so in his new Irma Vep — which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival shortly before debuting on HBO and HBO Max in early June — he’s “making fun of me” with the tenacious directorial character whose series-within-series is based on his own feature film, in which it again – just like Assayas’ film from 1996 – is about an attempted remake of a silent film series Les vampires.

For Assayas, “There’s only one way of making films that I’m familiar with and I use it for every project. I just did an eight-hour story and I don’t really care what you call it.”

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